2018-02-12 Being Confused

The days pass and my mind is not at rest. Sometimes I feel a cold hand clutching my entrails in the morning. Work? All the things I should do. A very light form of impostor syndrome and feelings of anxiety. I get these mostly when I don’t get enough sleep.

Sometimes, fragments of thoughts appear and as I try to grasp them, they disappear. Did I have a cool idea and can’t remember? Or was the thought but half done, the kind of thing that I hadn’t thought through? I’d like to remember and think it through. Like a manatee in space I flap my sadly inadequate mental flippers, but all I see are the stars turning around me. I can’t get a foothold. I can’t pin it down.

Should I write things down? Or is my life too full of things already? Perhaps I should think less. Focus more? When I need to focus, I often cannot. I want to read and play and talk. I can’t ever get anything done in the office when too many other people are around. Perhaps it is the noise that keeps distracting me. But later that day, around 15:00 or so, suddenly the horizon comes a lot closer. I don’t see people. I don’t hear people. It’s just the words on the screen. And then this. And then that. And it all falls into place.

But then I’m late for everything. I live in a permanent jet lag. I can’t play D&D at 22:00. I can’t have friends over for dinner. I can’t do my Aikido in the middle of the night. My wife has to get up early. I want to spend a few minutes in the morning and a few hours in the evening with her, in her company. We need to talk. We can’t just sleep in the same room. So I get up early and try to go to bed early.

Does journaling help focus, or does it prevent the mind from expanding? I think I’m writing this down in order to tie it down. Dear diary, sometimes I feel confused about the world and my purpose in life.

“Herr, lehre doch mich, daß ein Ende mit mir haben muß, und mein Leben ein Ziel hat, und ich davon muß.” Lord, help me understand my life will end, and that my life has meaning, and that I must go. The translation is mine and surely there are others. You can find the passages from the King James Bible on this page of the German Requiem.

This is something I fear indeed: to have wasted my time. To wake up one day and realize that life is short and that I spent what little time I had on the things I didn’t want.

I still do feel befuddled. Perhaps I should get more sleep.

Screenshot showing Emacs



Today I’m going to try something else. It has worked often enough: get up with my wife, but then waste an hour or two at home, making and drinking coffee, checking social media, writing some code, writing a blog post. We’ll see how it goes.

– Alex, 8:04 the next morning

I totally feel you.

Andreas Gohr 2018-02-13 13:45 UTC

I’ve found the practice of keeping a paper diary worthwhile, at least thus far; having tried org-mode files for the same purpose, I didn’t stick, but with this I seem to be so doing.

I haven’t yet encountered a case where I felt that to do so prevented my mind from expanding. Quite the contrary! - in the course of an average day, far more thoughts and ideas and stories occur to me than I could ever possibly find the time to develop, and, as anyone, I almost always have something else going on in any case. Heretofore, most of these have simply been forgotten, which seems to me sufficient cause for regret. But I have found that, if I only take a moment or two aside to describe a thought that seems worth saving, and to briefly expand upon what about it makes it seem to have such worth, then when the necessities of life permit, I may review my book, find those notes, and develop their subject further. Not all such thoughts merit or receive such investment, of course! But those which do, I no longer lose between the time when they occur to me and the time when I have effort free to devote to them.

Too, no longer losing them, I need no longer fear such loss. I believe this is why I have found the practice so greatly to improve my ability to focus: I no longer need fear that all the time I will ever have with an idea, I will have in the moment that the idea occurs to me. That’s a very distracting fear! Under its influence, to disregard whatever activity engaged one when an idea arose, and instead spend whatever time one may with the idea before it is gone, makes perfect sense. The diary is a tool against this fear, which I have found to be very effective; in the absence of the fear, there remains no impetus to shift focus beyond the minute or two spent writing down the essentials for later recovery, and I find I may return to my work, or whatever other task initially occupied me, with a clear mind.

I’m not sure why it should be so important in my experience that the medium be paper and ink, rather than keyboard and screen. But I strongly suspect that it has to do with the change of mental perspective that occurs in shifting from one to the other. There is also this about writing words on paper with a pen: the level of incremental effort is much higher than that required to type into a file. Odd as it seems, I think that has value, in that it lends a degree of concentration on the essential, and in its own way that too improves focus: if I start typing to myself into a file about an idea, I’m just likely to wander far off course into inconsequentialities because thoughts flow so easily through my hands into a keyboard that there seems no need to filter sense from nonsense, whereas the effort of shaping words with a pen on paper is such that, unless I am confident the words have merit enough that I’ll be glad of them later, I simply will not write them. With a keyboard at my fingertips, I may well waste time. With a pen in my hand, I find I do not waste effort.

And there is one other thing about keeping one’s diary in a paper book: it has the heft and feel of a made thing. It feels real, in a way that no digital equivalent I’ve ever created has felt. And I find that that means a great deal more to me than I would’ve imagined it could, before I began this practice.

Whether any of this generalizes beyond my own rather strange self, I have no idea in the world. But I hope there’s something here which you may find of use, or at least of passing interest.

Aaron 2018-02-16 16:22 UTC

...certainly, reviewing my prior comment, I can also say that writing on paper has done wonders for my concision. Now just to find a way to transfer that skill to the digital realm.

Aaron 2018-02-16 16:59 UTC

Thank you both. Perhaps I need to carry a paper notebook along with me, and a pen, and use it. Strangely enough, I already use and love to use paper notebooks for my RPG campaigns, for the languages I learn, for some journal entries I leave for my wife – I guess you could say I write love letters into a notebook for her, haha. But it never occurred to me to carry a generic notebook for myself. I need to give it a try.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-02-16 21:13 UTC

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